Restoration of rivers, streams and wetlands

Freshwater ecosystems are rich in species and ecosystem productivity but are highly impacted by centuries of human utilisation. Efforts to rehabilitate rivers, streams and wetlands are necessary not only for the conservation of biodiversity but also for their value to humans.

Freshwater restoration and rehabilitation, however, is fraught with difficulties including the high dynamism of riparian and floodplain ecosystems (in response to extremes of flood and drought), problems of connectivity / lack of connectivity; and competing interests between environmental management and human resource extraction.

There is a considerable amount of freshwater restoration work underway in Australia, ranging from small scale efforts to large-scale efforts including pollution remediation, reinstating environmental flows, riparian and floodplain rehabilitation, targeted fish recovery and the removal of barrier to fish passage.


1. Murray-Darling Basin Authority's Riverine Recovery Program.
The Riverine Recovery Project (RRP) is a $98 million joint Australian and State Government initiative to improve the health of the River Murray and its wetlands and floodplains from the South Australian border to Wellington. This involves a wide range of actions including the return of environmental water to the rivers and wetlands.

Some sub-projects:
- Coorong Lower Lakes Murray Mouth
- Living Murray - Chowilla floodplain icon site
- Seven 'Demonstration reaches' to trial and evaluate the implementation of the key driving actions of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Native Fish Strategy (NFS) which include:

  • Constructing instream habitat
  • Establishing fish screening at water diversions
  • Re-stocking with native fish

FEATURED EXAMPLE: Condamine Catchment, QLD:


Demonstration reaches EMR feature 

Monitoring in demonstration reaches

Native Fish Strategy – first 10 years.

Sea to Hume Dam Fishways

2. Murrray wetlands rewatering.
The Watering Wetlands on Private Properties Project has seen 74,152 ML of environmental water delivered to 215 wetlands covering over 67,238 hectares. Since the project began, the number of land managers involved has increased from 10 to 150 overall. Monitoring has demonstrated a vast improvement in vegetation health, particularly the dominant riparian and floodplain tree, River Red Gum, and subsequently the fauna that utilise these wetlands. The aquatic vegetation at various wetland sites has provided dynamic habitats for water birds and amphibians.

3. Some other sites
- Coorong and Lower Lakes restoration, South Australia
- Alpine Bogs and Fens, New South Wales, Australia
- Winton Wetlands, Victoria, Australia
- Nature Glenelg Trust wetlands, South Australia and Victoria, Australia
- Kooragang wetlands, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia

Lessons and Limitations

  • River restoration is a long term challenge due to high levels of ongoing disturbance, permanency of many dams, wiers and irrigation, high vulnerability to pest species and the many (often competing) demands upon a river.
  • Conversely, rivers link people and environments and as such, small but continuous improvements can have cumulative effects to increasingly achieve recovery.